The Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce on Thursday threw its support behind the mayor’s push for a decision this fall on a strong mayor form of government.
“Business leaders across Columbia are frustrated with how long it takes to get things done in this city,” the chamber’s chairman, Lee Bussell, said in a news release. “The largest area of economic growth in our state right now is the Lowcountry, and that’s because cities like Charleston, North Charleston and Goose Creek already have this (strong-mayor) system of governance and can act quickly when it is needed.”
The chamber’s support follows calls from Mayor Steve Benjamin and City Councilman Cameron Runyan to place the issue on the Nov. 5. ballot, the chamber wrote in its statement. Columbia business leaders for more than a decade have pushed to scrap Columbia’s strong-manager form of government.
Benjamin on Tuesday called upon City Council to reconsider its rejection in May 2012 of a proposal to put the issue before voters that year. Benjamin has asked council to take up the referendum question at its meeting Tuesday.
One of his declared challengers in the fall election, Councilman Moe Baddourah, quickly labeled Benjamin’s push for a referendum as having “the appearance of an election year gimmick.”
“Let’s hire a police chief first,” Baddourah wrote in a news release. “Only after we have addressed our most pressing public safety challenges should we allow campaign gimmicks to consume our time and energy.”
Baddourah said the city has had three interim chiefs since 2010.
“Furthermore,” he wrote, “the manner in which this proposal was raised – in a surprise move with less than three months until the elections – suggests political considerations are the main motivation.”
Baddourah also agrees with a request made Wednesday by Councilwoman Leona Plaugh. She wrote to her fellow council members, asking that a vote by council be postponed until after public forums are held to gauge voter interest in a referendum.
“Please note that our previous public meeting held May 2012 did not reflect an interest on behalf of the citizens of Columbia for this change,” Plaugh wrote in an email to council members. “Therefore, I suggest our first meeting could be advertised and held on” Tuesday, she said.